Monday, June 29, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday - Favorite Reads Thus Far in 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is a check in on 2015's reading highlights thus far.  I like making this list because it highlights some books that are really great but which by necessity will be displaced before the year end top ten.  Here is where I am at and I'm feeling like it's a pretty good reading year so far!


1. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

I can't imagine anything knocking this really superb book off of the top spot for the year.  It may even find a place in my top ten of all time. Don't be scared off because it is a "western"; it is first and foremost a story about people in extraordinary circumstances. (my review)

2. Jackaby by William Ritter

My only other 5 star read this year.  With its Sherlock Holmes meets Doctor Who approach to a historical paranormal story, this one hit all my bells repeatedly.  Love the characters, can't wait for the sequel! (my review)

3. Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon

This is book number 3 in a fantastically well done historical mystery series set in colonial era America.  Each installment is different and seems to be getting better.  I wasn't sure about this one during the initial pages but by the end McCammon had taken me on a totally satisfying journey! (my review)

4. Shine, Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

There is something about Lydia Netzer's unique writing style that works so well for me.  This is the second of her books I've read and it's somewhat impossible to describe but it somehow manages to be charming, strange and moving all at once.  (my review)

5. One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean

I've read three really awesome Regency romances by MacLean in the last month and she has definitely become a favorite.  This one just edges out the other two mostly because I adore the two main characters.  I haven't reviewed this one yet but did just post one on Nine Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake which came in a close second!

6. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

Roach is one of my favorite non-fiction writers and her latest book about the gastro-intestinal system was equal parts educational and entertaining.  (my review)

7.  The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

The second book in the Hyperion Cantos and while it is not as good as book one it is still pretty spectacular and much much larger in scope.  This is one of the best science fiction series I've ever read! (my review

8.  Lirael & Abhorsen by Garth Nix

Kind of a cheat but this is really just one long story told across two books.  They are books two and three in the Abhorsen series and tell the story of Lirael and Sabriel's son Sameth as they save The Old Kingdom.  The whole series is incredibly original and richly imagined YA lit! (my review - Lirael and Abhorsen)

9. Clockworks and Alpha & Omega by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

These are the last two volumes in the incredible Locke and Key graphic novel series.  It's a blend of mystery and horror and the two concluding volumes are amazing!  The whole series is great!

10. Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

This is book 11 in the very popular Harry Dresden series and it surprised me a little how much I enjoyed it! It's a long series that still has a lot of life and the power to entertain! (my review)


That's it for me.  Except that The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson is almost tied with Turn Coat.   It's the first in a mystery series featuring a Wyoming sheriff named Walt Longmire on which the TV show is based.  It's great!  Okay I'll stop now.  Can't wait to see what made other's lists!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

MUSINGS: Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
Publication Year: 2009
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: Dresden Files, #11
Awards: None
Format: Audio
Narrator: James Marsters

So I know titling this post "musings" is perhaps a little douchey and ridiculous but while I have some review-like thoughts to relate, most of what I have to say is sort tangentially related and not really fairly called a review.  Semantics?  Probably, but I don't want to be accused of false advertising:0).  And I'm not sure what the most appropriate term to use if not musing....looking up synonyms, I like the looks of brooding and rumination but suspect they might be even more ridiculous.  So enough.  Below are some thoughts, many of them tending towards a review of Turn Coat.

The book begins with Morgan, a warden with a deep grudge against Harry, collapsing on Harry's doorstep and asking for help.  He was found standing over the murdered corpse of one of the White Council members holding a knife but he has no idea how he got there.  He fought his way free, being gravely injured in the process and decided that Harry's dingy apartment in Chicago is the very last place the other wardens and agents of the council would look for him.  Despite his loathing for Morgan, Harry doesn't believe for a second that he killed a council member and he sets out to find out what really happened.

It had been ages since I had picked up the the preceding volume in the 6 I did have moments of confusion while reading Turn Coat.  References to past happenings flew right over my head, but if you are in the same boat as me you'll be happy to know that while that was a minor annoyance it didn't really keep me from following and REALLY enjoying this book.  As with the other Dresden novels it features non-stop, relentless action and it also introduces bucketfuls of  international political intrigue.  The intrigue isn't new but I did find it particularly interesting in this book especially because the ultimate ramifications in the series are exciting.  Morgan may be innocent but his innocence does very few people any good and it could seriously screw up the uneasy balance between all the world's magical folk.  Dresden has to wrestle with the whole idea of weighing the value of one man against the greater good.  It's interesting to see what he chooses and why.   There are also some major consequences in his personal life that had a serious emotional punch.

There are some really great scenes between Dresden and Murphy in this book as well.  My favorite is when she kind of calls him on his shit and delivers this pretty thought-provoking and surprising defense of bureaucracy.  She makes the case that being a rebel or going rogue are just flashy words for someone who likes things the way they like them and won't bend to other's ideas/preferences.  While others may be wrong they are deserving of respect and bureaucracy is one of the mechanisms used to protect ALL ideas.  It's interesting and it shows how well Murphy gets Dresden.  They also have this really touching and rather intimate farewell scene when Harry is headed off into danger where she can't follow.  It's a lovely throb of emotion in the middle of the chaos which is coalescing into the big showdown.

As might be apparent Murphy is really my favorite character in these books.  In my opinion she is the only female character that is made real and given agency.  She doesn't get the leering descriptions that most of the other female characters get, including Molly who at this point is more of a regular than Murphy.  She's meant to be attractive but nothing special.  A great cop and a loyal friend who isn't afraid to give Harry shit when he deserves it.  She's solid and dependable.  And while part of me really likes that Butcher has kept her and Harry's relationship platonic, another and probably larger part really wants to see them together romantically and as a team.  These thoughts sparked a daydream where Murphy was actually the main character in the series and we get everything from her perspective as she becomes aware of this other magical world existing within our own mundane one.  Like the Doctor's companions from Doctor Who - she would be the reader's entry point into this crazy world.  Maybe 3 or 4 books down the road she finally gets fired from the Chicago PD and goes into business with Harry, she providing the gun power and common sense and he the magic.  I REALLY want this series.  Any fan fiction writers out there willing to take this on?  Pretty please?

Somewhat related to the above I also kept my eyes peeled for any chauvinism and right wing ideals being preached in the book.  I had recently seen Butcher's name associated with the Sad Puppies group that is currently playing havoc in the SFF genre world particularly the Hugos.  I've always felt the Dresden Files books are certainly of a more masculine bent than many books I read but it had never bothered me or alienated me as I'd experienced with a few other books (ex: Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid series).   And I didn't really notice anything here.  As mentioned above Butcher does have a very leering male gaze way of describing many of the female characters but he used similar descriptive flourishes when describing Thomas, Dresden's preternaturally hot half brother.  I didn't pick up on any other obvious red flags either.  As I said - Murphy in particular is a fantastic, capable, intelligent and strong female character.  I wish she got more page time but other than that she's a good female role model. Furthermore, the overall politics, if it ever appears, is neutral.  See above that he actually, sort of seems to make an argument defending bureaucracy as a mechanism for protecting diverse ideas.   I'd be interested to hear what others' thoughts on this! FOLLOWUP NOTE:  I have since begun reading the next book in the series, Changes, and actually have noticed some troubling things in it which I guess I will discuss when I get to it.  One particularly glaring thing was Harry telling another male character he doesn't like that having his hair dyed blonde makes him look "gay" and he doesn't mean happy.  Seriously Butcher?

And finally, the most damning thing I can say about this book?  It claims there are Cottonmouths in Chicago which is, patently, ridiculous.  It is a common mis-perception that cottonmouths or water moccasins are found everywhere.  They are not.  They are a southern species.  Not every snake you see in the water is a cottonmouth!  And yes this is a nit only a wildlife biologist would pick:).

I should end by commenting that James Marsters' narration of the audio version of this book is really, really excellent!    He nails all the humor and captures Dresden's voice perfectly.  I was a little wary as I'd listened to another book narrated by him in a different series and it wasn't very good but he's in top form here!

FINAL VERDICT:  One of my favorite of the series!  Non-stop action as one comes to expect in a Dresden novel but sprinkled with some more thoughtful and emotional moments that work really well.  A fun and meaty romp!  4 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Saturdays in the Garden - Attacks! By Butterflies and Sharks.


I think I've mentioned before that I'm a Master Gardener.  While that sounds all boastful or at least like I know what I'm doing when it comes to plants and dirt, this couldn't be farther from the truth.  It really just means that I took a bunch of classes on gardening and then have been unleashed, along with a few other loosely affiliated folks, to perform gardening-related community service in my county.  This week we installed a pollinator garden at a local school with some native prairie plants  donated from the DNR's prairie seed production unit.  We planted it and promptly got ~6" of rain in the following 24 hours.  I've been afraid to go check on it.  Not to mention that it would have been better to get it in like three weeks ago but organizing people and preparing the site took some time.
Also this week we were beset by a plague of Red Admirals which is considerably more pleasant than a plague of locusts.  They're experiencing a population explosion and are truly everywhere. I left my car door open for two minutes while dashing back in the office for something I forgot and there were three fluttering around inside my car when I got back. 
The garden has continued to provide a bounty of sugar snap peas this week and teeny tiny green beans have started to emerge.  The first beginnings of some tomatoes have started even though the plants are still pretty small.  I also made some Garlic Scape/Basil pesto from the garden produce - yum!


In less than a week I head east, first to Richmond then to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a visit with family and friends.  It's been 2 or 3 years since I've been back and I am very happy to be seeing everyone and for spending a little time by the ocean which always seems to make everything better.  I love water and the ocean is always a physical reminder of how insignificant I am which somewhat counter-intuitively brings me peace.  I'm less peaceful about the fact that there was a shark attack this past week pretty much right where we are staying at the beach so not sure how much swimming I'll be doing.  Number one way I don't want to die?  Being a prey item.  


Yep!  You guessed it.  My Longmire obsession is STILL going strong.  I've just embarked on my 4th re-watch in a row but with the intent of writing some more detailed posts on the show.  Obviously I have some thoughts that need to be expressed so hopefully this will cure me least until season 4 is released. 


Things have picked up in the reading department after a brief slump.  This week I get to decide what I want to take with me on vacation!!  I would really like to chip away at some series that I'm in the middle of because I'm finding when I leave too big a time gap between reading a book and its predecessor my poor memory makes it a pretty frustrating experience.

Finished this week:

  • The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson: This is the first book in the Walter Longmire series of mysteries on which the show is based.  The books are quite different but equally awesome and very funny and well written.  I really loved it!
  • 10% Happier by Dan Harris: While this in no way has changed my life it was an interesting and satisfying read.
  • Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones: My first Diana Wynne Jones and I thoroughly enjoyed it!  Howl and Sophie are such perfectly imperfect characters.

Currently Reading:

  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: I haven't picked this one up in a few weeks.  Good thing its not the type of book that will be hard to follow if it takes me a while to pick it up again.
  • Death Without Company (Longmire #2) by Craig Johnson:  I bought the first four books in the series as a package and will be devouring them. 
  • Changes (Dresden Files #12) by Jim Butcher: I'm not very far into this one yet but I have to admit it's coming as a bit of a rude awakening after the brilliance of Turn Coat.  We'll see where it's going....
  • Gunmetal Magic (Kate Daniels 5.5) by Ilona Andrews:  This "in between" book focuses on Kate's best friend Andrea.  I like Andrea but I am struggling with this book partially because of an irritating narrator on the audio version.


I actually got a couple reviews posted and such.  Almost a normal week!

SUNDAY: Review of Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.  This book is amazing and will undoubtedly be at the top of my favorites for this year.
WEDNESDAY: Review of Nine Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean.  Finally got to shout my love for MacLean!  If you like Regency romances I highly recommend giving her a try!
THURSDAY: Tough Traveling: Fathers.  Where I try to convince everybody that Disney's The Little Mermaid is a masterpiece exploring complex Father-Daughter relationships.  It is.  Seriously. 


I hope to have a fairly normal week this week and then will be pretty much gone for all next week while I'm on vacation.  If I can get some things written up and scheduled, great, but more than likely the blog will be on vacation as well:0)!

SUNDAY: First Longmire post featuring first 5 episodes of season 1 or a review of Turn Coat.
TUESDAY: The Top Ten Tuesday topic is the top ten books of the year that we have read thus far.  Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
WEDNESDAY:  Book Review TBD.  
THURSDAY: The Tough Traveling meme is highlighting Fights for Independence in Fantasy land! Not a single one is coming to mind!  But if any do I will participate!  Learn more over on Fantasy Review Barn.

Have a great week (or two:0)!  May there be no shark attacks in your future!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Tough Traveling - Fathers


Tough Traveling is a fun meme that aims to tour all the tropes big and small, abhorred and loved that are littered across the fantasy landscape. It was conceived of and is hosted by Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn and here's how it's explained on the blog: 

Each Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week's trope is Fathers:
Comes in two types in fantasyland.  Either a semi-mystical figure proving impossible to live up to or the overbearing type who doesn’t understand why his daughter doesn’t accept the traditional princess role.  He may be tough to get along with but usually does think he has his kids interests in mind. 
I like dads.  I like fantasy fiction.  Let's investigate where the two overlap.


- King Neptune from The Little Mermaid 

This is an odd one to start with I know because I am specifically referring to Ariel's dad in The Little Mermaid film not in the heartbreaking Hans Christian Andersen source material.  King Neptune is like the epitome of the "overbearing type" described above.  The thing is even as a teenager, when I LOVED this movie, I really felt for Neptune.  He loves his daughter and just wants to keep her from being hurt.  He gives himself up to the sea witch to save his daughter and ultimately learns to accept Ariel for who she is.  * sniff, sniff *  I'm such a sap.  

- Roland from The Kate Daniel's series by Ilona Andrews

Kate's dad is a REAL piece of work.  He is kind of like the dad mentioned above who is impossible to live up to but in this case that's probably a good thing.  This whole series (at least up through book 5 which is the last one I've read) is about Kate working up to confronting her father and taking his evil ass down. 


- Terciel from the Abhorsen Series by Garth Nix

SPOILER ALERT!  Terciel got around which led to him to being the father of not one but TWO Abhorsens one of which is also a remembrancer.  He leaves quite the legacy and while he and Sabriel spend much of her childhood apart, they have a really touching, if complicated relationship. Book one in the series is all about Sabriel trying to find and save her father. 

- Bigby Wolf from Fables Series by Bill Willingham

Since I featured Snow during the Mothers topic, I thought I should also feature my favorite incarnation of the Big Bad Wolf.  It can't be easy being dad to 7 part wolf/part human kids who can fly one of which is invisible.  As a bonus, Bigby has a complicated and not terribly friendly relationship with his own father, The North Wind. It's all surprisingly adorable and touching.

That does it for my visit with the father's of fantasyland.  There are many more but these are some of my favorites.  For more touring, check out everyone else's list over on Fantasy Review Barn!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

REVIEW: Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean
Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean
Publication Year: 2010
Genre: Fiction, Romance
Series:Love by Numbers, #1
Awards: Nominated for RITA Award for best Regency Historical,
Format: Paperback I own

Romance is a huge hit or miss genre for me.  I really enjoy a good romance but I'm picky about what I find to be good.  So finding a new favorite romance author is always VERY exciting.  MacLean was brought to my attention by Rebecca Schinsky of Book Riot. While she and I's book tastes don't overlap terribly, she is an outspoken feminist and fan of literary fiction so I figured if she liked MacLean, I figured her books should be a decently written and feature heroines who wouldn't make me want to scrub my brain out.  I wasn't disappointed!

Calpurnia Hartwell is a well bred lady on the shelf at the age of 27.   She has always played it safe and by the rules but as her younger sister prepares to marry she starts to question what having a spotless reputation has done for her and what it is she really wants from her life.  She makes a list; a bucket list of sorts; of nine things she wants to experience and damn the consequences.  What does she really have to lose after all?  Number one on the list is to be kissed.  In a fit of boldness she decides to approach the man she's had a crush on for 10 years, ever since he'd been kind to her during a disastrous ball in her first season. The Marquess of Ralston has a rake's reputation so she figures he'll be obliging.  He is but he also exacts a price: he wants Callie to use her impeccable reputation to help launch his somewhat scandalous sister into society.  Thus the dance begins.

The most important part of a romance for me are the characters and that is definitely a strength of this book.  Callie is just a regular woman - nothing super special about her.  In fact, on the surface, she's quite dull as she's always followed society's rules and as such does her best at being invisible.  She's got low self esteem which I know may irritate some readers but I think it is a real problem amongst women (and men, really) and was likely especially bad in Regency Era England when women were not valued much.  The book does a good job showing how irrational and crippling it is.  While she is not stunningly beautiful (thank god), she's attractive enough and has a great personality and she shouldn't have had a problem finding a husband but her conviction that she is ugly convinces others she's not worth bothering with.  Her "bucket list" is her declaration of liberation - she finally decides that she matters and that she deserves to find pleasure in life.

Ralston is an alpha hero but I found him to be pretty laid back for his ilk.  He can be grumpy and controlling but mostly when things aren't going well.  Otherwise he's charming and has a live and let live attitude.  Most importantly, he always respects Callie and sympathizes with her desires to break free from her oh so proper life even if he find her exploits inconvenient.

I am a fan of the trope of a long-time unrequited crush which this romance employs to great success.  Callie and Ralston fit well together as a pair.  And the feminist credentials?  Many of the items on Callie's list are things that were major symbols of male privilege at the time; smoke a cigar, drink whiskey etc....  It explores how stifling a woman's existence likely was at the time and gently pokes at it without being strident.  It's kept light with a generous dose of humor and lots of romantic tension-based banter.

There was a thing or two I didn't love.  I don't love when a heroine is challenging the hero or she's irritated with him and he shuts her up/makes her forgive/forget everything with a make out session.  A little of this is fine but it happens a little too much in this book.  However even with this, it was a totally delightful read!

FINAL VERDICT:  An original heroine, in that she's pretty ordinary, and her journey to stop being what society expects of her makes for a really great romance!  4 out of 5 stars!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

REVIEW: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Publication Year: 1985
Genre: Fiction, Western, Historical
Series: Lonesome Dove #1
Awards: Pultizer Prize (1986), PEN/Faulkner (1986) and National Book Critics Circle Nominee (1985) 
Format: Audio (from
Narrator: Lee Horsely

I am completely overwhelmed and intimidated by the prospect of writing a review for this book.  It's probably fair to call it a modern classic and it's been reviewed many times by much smarter and more perceptive people than I.  What can I possibly add to the conversation that hasn't already been said about this book?  Undoubtedly nothing but I have thoughts and feelings that must be expressed so I'm ignoring wisdom and putting them out there regardless. Second problem is that with a book this good, nothing I say is even remotely adequate.  Hopefully my dithering is enough to convince you of this book's all around awesomeness. It will easily be on my top ten reads of the year list if not of all time.

I come to this book already a big fan of westerns and that predisposed me to love it but I'm not sure you need to have an inclination towards fiction set in the American frontier.  Lonesome Dove is really about people.  People who've had a very different life than I've had but who still managed to seem familiar.  Many of them are extraordinary though most of them are just incredibly ordinary.  The book is told from many different perspectives and their voices are all completely alive.  If you like inhabiting other people's skin, this book will be a satisfying and overwhelming buffet.

The plot is as winding as a cattle trail, which is mostly it's purpose. The overarching narrative is about the small Hat Creek Cattle Company nestled in the dry desert of south Texas deciding to be the first outfit to move cattle into Montana and establish a ranch there.  The Hat Creek company is owned and operated by two rather famous but retired Texas Rangers, Captain Woodrow Call and Captain Augustus McCrae, less formerly know as Call and Gus. 
The cattle drive is the main river of the narrative but it has several streams, the most substantial of which is the somewhat inept but earnest exploits of Sheriff July Johnson whose storyline intersects with Gus and Call's a few times.  It felt like McMurtry had this loose central line of a plot which he kept in mind but didn't tie himself to, allowing his writing to flow wherever it took him. While everything does flow there are times when the tributary you are floating in is quite small indeed.  We spend a a number of pages in the head of July's erstwhile wife before that line abruptly peters out. There are a couple of main perspective characters but we get inside almost all of the characters at least for brief periods.  This writing style would normally drive me crazy.  I tend to gravitate towards and most appreciate books (and series) that have been intricately planned out and cleverly plotted but with Lonesome Dove I was so entranced by every single thing and person that appeared that I wanted it to keep going forever.  No matter where McMurtry took me, it was exactly where I wanted to be and I found the book to be a compulsive listening experience.  I wanted it to be longer than it's 945 pages.

I think a key thing to know about the book is how funny it is.  The tone is so incredibly perfect; it's this balance between humor and tragedy, hope and philosophy, dysfunctionality and wisdom that it seems to capture the very essence of the human experience.  I know this probably sounds pretentious but the point is that the book is not at all pretentious.  It's warm and down to earth.  This book made me frequently laugh out loud or grin like a fool, often in public.  It also brought tears and sadder emotions but the brutality that was a very real part of life in that place and time was always kept in check by the ridiculous and the heroic.  Since I'm afraid I've made it sound all rambly and existential, I also need to point out that it's not that at all.  It's chock full of all the things people look for in a great story; adventure, gunfights, beautiful settings, suspense and romance.

The muse or choirmaster of the book, in my mind is Gus McCrae.  Gus very quickly and firmly became one of my favorite fictional characters of all time.  I don't want to describe him because I will not be able to do him justice but almost every single one of the sentences from this book that are worthy of taking special note of, and there are lots of them are either said by or about Gus.  He's got a wry and wicked sense of humor which has enabled him to experience many terrible things in his life and come out the other side at peace.

“If you want one thing too much it’s likely to be a disappointment. The healthy way is to learn to like the everyday things, like soft beds and buttermilk—and feisty gentlemen.” - Gus McCrae
He's utterly unique and I adored him more with each page.  I could have read a 1000 pages more of him extemporaneously speaking.  His relationship with the taciturn and workaholic Call is also one of the more delightful and fantastic things in the book. It also has to be said that while Gus was certainly my favorite character, the book is loaded with fascinating people all of whom were worthwhile spending time with.

FINAL VERDICT: If you enjoy humor, character-driven fiction and compelling storytelling than you owe it to yourself to read this book as soon as you possibly can.  I can't imagine another book that could unseat this one as my favorite read of 2015. 5 very enthusiastic stars out of 5.

Audio Review:  Lee Horsely does a really great job with the audio.  His female voices are perhaps not perfect but he gets most everything else right.  I was at first put off by how he read Gus (who is described as having a very loud voice) but pretty soon it became clear that he captured him perfectly.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Saturdays in the Garden: Meaningfulness VS. Happiness


It was a good week in the outdoors despite dire weather warnings.  I spent three days hiking around remnant prairies in the Loess Hills of Western Iowa.  It is a truly spectacular landscape, Iowa style; i.e. it may not be as immediately awe-inspiring as the Rockies or the ocean but there is much beauty there nonetheless.  It's a good reminder to find and appreciate the beauty wherever you happen to be.  It will undoubtedly be there and it makes life better.

My travel companions:)
My office  -not bad.  Not bad at all.

The garden has continued to develop and be awesome though saying that makes me nervous like I have undoubtedly jinxed myself.  All is not perfect in gardenland - the tomatoes are behind and the peppers are putting on blooms even though they are undersized - besides that though....  The green beans have started putting on flowers so should have edible beans in a week or so.  The Sugar Snap peas are producing prolifically.  When I got home around 8:30 Friday night from my travels, which required eating road food and granola bars for three days, it was like manna from heaven to pull off some sugar snaps and gobble them down.  This is the why gardening is worth it.


I also encountered a little inspiration this week.  One of the prairies on which we're working is on private land and surrounds the owner's house.  Thankfully this is a kindred spirit who loves the prairie.  They also have a vegetable and herb garden that made me covetous.  Forty-one 8' X 4' X 2' raised beds spaced with wide aisles that are a riot of milkweeds and volunteer herbs and native plants.  It was messy and glorious.  Messy is definitely my style:0).  Some day when I have more land and have miraculously acquired carpentry skills...


Last week I encountered this article about the pursuit of a meaningful vs. a happy life.  It has dominated my thoughts all week and I think it may be one of those life changing ideas for me.  The contemplation of these two things, meaningfulness and happiness, is not a new activity for my over-thinking brain but I am not sure I had ever looked at these concept from the angle presented in the article.  That they are sometimes mutually exclusive and that happiness should not, in fact, be the ultimate goal in life.  Happiness is an emotion that is fleeting while meaningfulness provides something a little more substantive and satisfying.  The concept that was presented which most impacted me was the idea that living a meaningful life does not mean you will be happy and may in fact include a fair amount of stress and anxiety.  The article quotes a study that suggested that parents are frequently happier watching television then they are caring for their children:
Having children, for example, is associated with the meaningful life and requires self-sacrifice, but it has been famously associated with low happiness among parents, including the ones in this study. In fact, according to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, research shows that parents are less happy interacting with their children than they are exercising, eating, and watching television.
The article also seems to suggest that the pursuit of happiness can actually be the pursuit of selfishness.

This is an idea I'm sure could be refuted.  Answering the questions about the best way to live one's life is almost always going to be at least somewhat subjective but this different viewpoint about the difference between these two concepts has really resonated with me and been the cause of a lot of thinking.

For 2-3 years now I have really struggled with my job because it is the source of a LOT of stress and anxiety for me on many different levels.  Since I have always thought of these things as categorically bad to have in one's life and because I have always thought that the ultimate goal in life is happiness, I have continually questioned whether I am in the right place, doing the right things.  Thinking about things from the perspective of meaningfulness as the ultimate goal and what that entails, really changes the whole ball game for me.  I am very lucky to have a career and job whose mission I feel is to make the world a better place for all living creatures and to encourage harmony with and respect to all.  It's a higher calling for me and I do believe my position is one where I can make a difference.  Not change the world by any stretch of the imagination but effect a positive change in my little corner of garden.  It brings with it a certain amount of overwork, stress, anxiety and heartache and the way I read the above article, it means that actually that's okay and that it can be an indication that I am doing the right thing.  Whoa.  It is a concept I think I will continue to read more about and think on but it has already impacted how I dealt with this past week which was very busy and stressful.  Instead of railing against it, I accepted and even embraced those things as being part of the package of doing something I believe in.

So that got a LOT longer then I was thinking it would be. I apologize for getting all philosophical and personal on you but the idea had such a profound effect on me I wanted to share it and also see if you all had any thoughts on this idea of demoting the pursuit of happiness and aiming for meaningfulness instead.   Is this something you were already very aware of and have embraced?  Is it a new idea to you?  Do you think it has some truth in it or do you think it is faulty or overly simplified?  Basically I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Now onto the much shallower things that give me many little moments of happiness:0).

My Longmire obsession is still going strong and I am just starting my third re-watch.  It's become a comfort watch for me that allows me to zone out or work on other things and I have actually picked up on new things and additional character nuances with each re-watch which is a good indication of its quality.


I'm in a bit of a weird reading spot; a borderline slump if you will.  It's primarily in my audio book reading  - after finishing Shadow Scale in the car and Lonesome Dove on my Ipod I can't settle on anything that really interests me.  I started listening to Fairest by Marissa Meyer but don't think I will finish it.  It's really well done but almost too well done as I got stuck during a scene where a teenaged emotionally selfish and immature Levana, who also has trouble separating fantasy and reality, is forcing herself on the object of her affection right after his wife has died.  This emotional tone deafness is something I have a really hard time reading or watching particularly if it's a character I've developed some sympathy with.  I turned it off in the middle of the scene and don't think I can/will go back.  I also stopped (though plan to go back to) The Neverending Story by Michael Ende because it just wasn't capturing my interest in the moment.

Finished this week:

- Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman: I predict this one will be hard to review.  I didn't love it as much as Seraphina but it included some things I really loved and appreciated.
- Murder on Gramercy Park by Victoria Thompson:  Book 3 in the Gaslight Mystery series that focuses on a turn of the 20th century midwife and police detective in New York.
- Nimona by  Noelle Stevenson:  I learned about this graphic novel from the Reading the End podcast and it was in fact really lovely. 

Currently Reading:

- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: I haven't picked this one up in a couple weeks.  Good thing its not the type of book that will be hard to follow if it takes me a while to pick it up again.
- The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson: This is the first book in the Walter Longmire series of mysteries on which the show is based.  I told you I was obsessed!
- 10% Happier by Dan Harris: I just started this one on audio this morning because I own it and recently a friend said she really liked it.  So far it's engaging enough.  It is more of a memoir then I was expecting which is not a bad thing. It also has the longest subtitle ever which I did not include. Sorry.


Obviously, work is taking all my energies these days so posting has been very slim.  I did start a review of Lonesome Dove but it is a book that I loved an insane amount and therefore I am taking my time with the review which will likely still not do it justice.

SUNDAY: TV Review: Longmire Another thing that I am loving and that my post doesn't really capture but oh well.  It's up there.


This week will be a little more normal....

SUNDAY: Review of Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
THURSDAY:  The Tough Traveling meme is highlighting Fathers in Fantasy land!  Learn more and check out last weeks topic (People on Boats) over on Fantasy Review Barn.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

TV REVIEW: Longmire (2012-present)

 I've mentioned before on the blog that I have a soft spot for westerns (which quite frankly doesn't entirely make sense to me... but that's for another post).  My taste usually runs to stories set in the "wild" west during America's frontier era but I do enjoy a good crime thriller and that was enough for me to adjust my stringent era requirements to watch Longmire.  Boy, am I glad I did because this show is my newest obsession.  And honestly there are so many elements of this show that seem to purposefully reflect it's wild west legacy;  cattle rustling, duals with pistols, firearms everywhere and complicated, mostly negative relations between whites and Indians; so it doesn't stray too far from my preferences anyway.

The one sentence show synopsis from Netflix is:
This contemporary crime thriller focuses on a Wyoming sheriff who's rebuilding his life and career after the death of his wife.
 That's a pretty good short description and in fact the show begins on or about the one year anniversary of Walt Longmire's wife's murder.  It becomes apparent in the first episode that he is barely keeping it together - his house is in a state of disrepair and he's not been truly engaged with his job as Sheriff for a while.  His three deputies have been holding it together:
- Branch Connally is competent, arrogant and cocky and has just thrown his name in the hat to run against Walt for sheriff.  He obviously respects Walt and is a decent guy at heart but he's ambitious as is his powerful father.
- The Ferg is awkward, and incompetent but his heart's in the right place. As the show progresses, Ferg's skills and confidence improve. 
- Vic Moretti has only been on the job for six months after leaving her job as a cop in Philadelphia.  She's feisty, aggressive and taking a while to adjust to the different kind of law enforcement in Absaroka County, Wyoming.

The cast of main characters is filled out by Henry Standing Bear, Walt's best friend and owner of the Red Pony Bar and Cady Longmire, Walt's Daughter.  There's also a handful of other tertiary recurring characters like Mathias, the Cheyenne Reservation Police Chief who doesn't much care for Walt and my favorite, Lucian Connally, Branch's uncle and the former Sheriff.

Season 1 is ten episodes long and follows a pretty standard police procedural format with each episode presenting a unique mystery storyline.  There is an overarching story, which continues throughout all three current seasons, of Walt's wife's murder and the repercussions and continued mystery surrounding it, but it remains mostly in the background in this season.  Standout episodes for me in season one are:
- Dog Soldier (episode 1.5) which is about the kidnapping of Cheyenne children and has an ending that really helps define the character of Walt and gave me chills (in a good way).  Here's the incredible ending scene but don't watch if you don't want to be spoiled!
- The Worst Kind of Hunter (episode 1.6) about a body found mauled to death by a bear but it isn't entirely what it seems.
- Unfinished Business (episode 1.10) deals with the murders of some local teenage boys that were wrongfully acquitted of raping a mentally handicapped Cheyenne girl.  One of the things that I most love about this show is how well it creates these very raw emotional moments and this has one of the best.

In Season 2 the through story lines become a little more prominent.  The election between Branch and Walt heats up, a detective from Denver where Walt's wife was killed steps up his investigations, and Cady disappears for a few episodes after learning that her mother was murdered rather than dying of cancer as she was told.  Some new story lines emerge as well with Vic's past coming back to haunt her and a little frisson of something between Walt and Vic begins to be explored.  Also this season is really strong on an episode level with my favorites being:
- Unquiet Mind (episode 2.1) where Walt tracks a serial killer and hostages into the wilderness during a blizzard.  It illustrates just how fearless and badass Walt is and how seriously he takes his duty as Sheriff.
- Carcasses (episode 2.2) has one of those scenes that for me just completely blew me away  - really terrific acting from the guest stars in this one and a powerful and heartbreaking story.  It is perhaps the best scene in the whole series (Again don't watch if you don't want to be spoiled).
- Election Day (episode 2.10) starts out very lighthearted but quickly gets complicated when Cady is badly injured by a hit and run driver.  It's a turning point for Walt as a character and Ferg reveals himself a little but more.  Really it's a nice character piece for everyone.
- Natural Order (episode 2.11) is about poaching and the death of a game warden so I'm disposed to find it interesting.  I was also disposed to like it because it guest stars Jim Beaver who I unreservedly adore (he played major roles in two of my other favorite shows Deadwood and Supernatural). This one also has a really powerfully emotional scene that is well acted and done.

Season 3 is bonkers. Everything explodes in flames.  Henry is arrested and goes on trial for a murder related to Walt's wife's death; Branch, who was shot in the last episode of season 2, goes completely loco; Vic and her husband are kidnapped by a group of anti-government extremists and Walt and Vic's feelings for one another become more difficult to keep repressed. This season is a testament to Walt's ability to multi-task:0). By the end of the season quite a few of the ongoing story lines, which dominate this season, are mostly wrapped up though there are still a number of loose ends.  Thank all that is holy that Netflix has picked the show up for a 4th season after A&E dropped the show.   The season ended on a huge cliffhanger.  Anyway, some favorite episodes from this season:
- The White Warrior (episode 3.1) is a non-stop crazy rodeo with Walt running all over trying to pin down who shot Branch while also trying to mitigate Henry's arrest for murder.  The cat is finally out of the bag to everyone, that his wife was murdered.
- Of Children and Travelers (episode 3.2) has Vic and Walt trying to track down what happened to a Russian teenager brought to the U.S. through adoption. Vic and Walt make a great duo in this one!
- Population 25 (episode 3.7) Vic and her husband get in a car accident at just the wrong place and are kidnapped by ant-government extremists.  Vic's storyline involving repercussions from her past is most likely resolved in this episode.
- Ashes to Ashes (episode 3.10) Branch is finally vindicated and Henry's troubles are also resolved after some clever detective work.

So let's get down to the nitty gritty.  What's so special about this show?  There are several elements that have helped it very quickly become one of my favorites. 

Walt -

Walt Longmire is an amazing character.  He's a man of few words who generally expresses his feelings and beliefs through action. And speaking of emotion he's the type who feels them very intensely but who usually keeps them screwed down very tight.  When they do overwhelm him, it's a sight to behold.  He's a man in his 50's with all the experience that age brings and he is physically and mentally tough, has a strong sense of duty and isn't afraid to bend some rules in service to fairness and justice.  Despite his rough exterior he is in fact incredibly compassionate which especially shows itself in his caring for animals, and his relationship with his daughter.  He is incredibly protective of those he loves.  He's also sometime wrong which makes sure he stays in the realm of reality.  I adore him.  Seriously. 

Cast -

The show is very well cast from Bailey Chase (Branch) who is the epitome of the young cocky cowboy to Lou Diamond Phillips who radiates wisdom and caring as Walt's best friend.  Katee Sackhoff is perfect as Vic Moretti who is very similar to Katee's other famous role, Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica.  The guest stars are also routinely excellent which leads to the....

Raw Emotional Moments - 

This show does such an amazing job creating these incredibly moving, emotional scenes and moments.  The type of intense situations that create a visceral response from the viewer (well at least this viewer).  The show and it's cast deliver these type of scenes exceptionally well.

Interesting Storylines and Setting -

This is a crime procedural show that actually feels very original which is a rare thing!  The setting in a rural Wyoming County with it's western flavor and the added complicated relationship between the white and Indian nation provides unique ground for really interesting stories.  I also love the slow build of the through storylines - the convoluted circumstances surrounding Walt's wife's death, Vic's complicated past. 

Walt and Vic - 

For some watchers, the slow development of feelings between Walt and Vic will be a turn off but it is like glorious catnip to me.  My love for this 'ship had me questioning whether I now have a thing for May-December romances because one of my other all time favorite 'ships falls in this category (Sam and Jack from Stargate SG1).  Then it occurred to me that actually the two 'ships have more in common than just that - they are very similar.  It's very slowly developed and is between a very passionate but emotionally repressed and honorable older man and his strong, feisty second in command.  It's the type of 'ship where every look  and word may hold significance...or not.  It's like my 'ship kryptonite.  I can't wait to see where it goes in season 4.

I don't feel like I've really done the show justice but I felt compelled to put some praises out there for this fantastic show.  As usual I'm getting on the band wagon three years late but I feel very fortunate that the show has been picked up for a fourth season.  It's definitely still got some life left in it!

One final note is that this show is based on a series of mysteries by Craig Johnson.  They are very highly rated and I just broke down and bought the first four books on Kindle.  I felt like I was going to need something to tide me over until season 4 starts up in the fall.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturdays in the Garden - When Science Makes you Cry


The weather in Iowa this week was SUPER hot and sunny followed by a butt-load of rain.  This combination caused some pretty intense growth in the garden.  It's sort of amazing to watch the plants respond so quickly to the weather conditions.  They may have also enjoyed some of the organic  fertilizer I put on last week.  The tomatoes in particular shot up and all the garlic scapes made their appearance.

Remember how I said a couple weeks ago that pretty soon everything will start going horribly wrong?  Well it's started.  In the storms this week, the top half of one of my sugar snap pea plants broke off and it was OF COURSE the plant and the part of the plant with the most developing pods and blooms.  I was able to harvest a few ripe pods thankfully and I have a few other plants still producing. 
Okay so you can really tell what's going on here but trust me, it's heart breaking.


I spent a few days this week hiking around the Loess Hills of Iowa for work.  This is for the second year of a research project looking for a couple of rare butterfly species.  Despite being super hot, as I mentioned, it was nice to get in the field again though it means the beginning of 3.5 months of stress and anxiety.  It's mostly about the weather.  If you're someone who likes to make a plan and stick to it, field work can be a bitch.  The weather is this constantly changing variable that is impossible to control.

Despite the stress I managed not to cry OR fall in love this week.  If you are completely confused right now, check out the #distractinglysexy hashtag on twitter.  A Nobel Laureate, Tim Hunt, joked at a conference about how annoying it was to have to work in mix gendered labs because the women were all distracting with their crying and falling love with co-workers or making their corworkers fall in love with them. Women scientists responded in the best way possible - snarkily.


So I am still thoroughly obsessed with Longmire.  I watched through all three available seasons and am on my second watch through the series.  I hope to post a thorough and completely gushy post this week about it so that's all I will say except WATCH it!


Finished this week:

Nothing.  Apparently I'm watching too much TV:).

Currently Reading:

- Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman:  Getting pretty close to the end of this one!
- Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe: I haven't picked this one up in a couple weeks.  Good thing its not the type of book that will be hard to follow if it takes me a while to pick it up again.
- Murder on Gramercy Park by Victoria Thompson:  Book 3 in the Gaslight Mystery series that focuses on a turn of the 20th century midwife and police detective in New York.
- The Neverending Story by Michael Ende:  This one is on hold because a hold came up at the library...
- Fairest by Marissa Meyer: Levana's story in the awesome Lunar Chronicle's series.


THURSDAY: Tough Traveling - Orphans There are a LOT of orphans in fantasy land.


This will probably be another loosey goosey week because work will continue to require a bunch of travel etc....  I hope to post something about Longmire and hopefully a book review.
Have a good week full of puppy wrestling!